This is a major river in the Sierra Nevada landscape, as well as in the Gold Rush history of California. Many mining camps, railways, old abandon mines, dirt roads, hiking trails, mountain biking routes, waterfalls and even ancient artifacts can be found on the back roads. The native tribes once heavily populated these river canyons since the location is ideal, half way between the big mountains and the sunny warm valley.
North fork of American River drains most of the Donner Pass region, all along Interstate 80. Indian Creek is a feeder stream coming from Sugar Pine Reservoir. No large reservoirs exist along this American North Fork, although there is a wide section of the river, above Auburn, called the North Fork Lake.
Middle fork of American River comes down from the Granite Cheif Wilderness, next to Lake Tahoe; Foresthill (3225′ elev) is a small mountain community w/ a ranger station; French Meadows Reservoir is way back in there, toward the highest peaks @ 9000′ elevation.
South fork of American River parallels the State Highway 50, which connects Placerville to Lake Tahoe via the Kyburz Pass. Union Valley Reservoir and Ice House Reservoir make up this part of the drainage for abundant snow melt.
The north and middle flows of this river join in Auburn, near the freway @ I-80. The south fork joins the rest downhill in the Central Valley, at Folsom Lake, NW of Sacramento, CA
This is a rapid moving river, with serious force. Not to be taken lightly. Wear life vest and stay alive; Don’t swim in dangerous conditions and spare your life!
Go whitewater river rafting with experienced leaders, who offer professional guide rafting tours. Always wear a life vest in the water. Toying around with an inflatable cheap raft on a big river, can leads to all kinds of trouble.
James W. Marshall discovered gold in January of 1848 on the South Fork of the American River
Numerous feeder creeks and rivers drain into American River:
Silver Creek (flows to south fork)
Silver Fork of the American River (flows to north fork)
Auburn Lodging near the American River with numerous unique overnight options closeby. Colfax, the rail-town up the interstate, also has small motels and inns, most are freeway close. Foresthill is a residential area near the Middle Fork of the American River. Placerville, on the South Fork has more hotel choices. See more on Historic Gold Country
Edison Lake, Florence Lake, Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake Kaiser Wilderness, Sierra National Forest
2021 – MUCH OF THIS RIVER may be INACCESSIBLE, due to the Creek Fire 2020
The San Joaquin watershed begins way up in the High Sierra, Ansel Adams Wilderness to be exact. Eastern Sierra ranges, up behind Mammoth Mountain peaks called The Minarets, the snow drains westward. Far from the San Joaquin Valley, way above Fresno, CA
Sierra Forest Road #80 is Kaiser Pass Rd. Starting next to China Peak Ski Resort (formerly Sierra Summit) Take the right turn, near Huntington Lake. Kaiser Pass Road is a paved back country road climbing steeply up into the high country.
Sierra National Forest Headquarters
1600 Tollhouse Road
Clovis, CA 93611
WINTER ACCESS: Kaiser Pass is one of the few areas to enjoy snowmobiling trails and hot spring soaking. The distance to the springs is about 25 miles, one way and requires either cross country skis, snow shoes or snow mobile to reach.
SNO MO RENTALS: Snow depth is usually best after the first of the year and last through April. The round trip hot springs (self-guided) excursion can be done w/ a half day rental, but only if you follow some guidelines: Reserve machine @ Rancheria Enterprises, way ahead of time; Pack a lunch and snacks. Arrive early, gear up, get instructions and have a topo map; Be on the trail and traveling, not stopping on side routes, or play in the meadow or sightsee.
Narrow route continues on passing the meadow and goes for many miles. Trail traverses some steep terrain, with curves and cliffs, especially coming down hill to the river & green metal bridge. Parking spot is before bridge on left side. Hike a short distance, across marshy hillside to reach the 2 primitive hot tubs.
A grouping of small lakes on the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Bridgeport, California. Camping & fishing are the main attractions here, along with a high elevation trailhead. Awesome back country access for the backpackers who love hiking the Hoover Mountain Wilderness.
Aspen trees turn golden colors as freezing temps lower in Autumn, and can be breathtaking in October. Sometimes the window of opportunity is very short, as the first snow of the season usually falls at the same time of year.
The spectacular Klamath River is both the second largest and second longest river in California, making its way through over 250 miles both the Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges. It’s one of the most important rivers in the U.S. for fish migration.
NorCal river renowned for fishing = salmon and steelhead
The river is easily accessible off of Highway 96 w/ boat ramps, trailhead parking and campgrounds located nearby.
Klamath River flows down into California from Klamath Falls, Oregon. Many feeder streams and rivers join the big river – Shasta River, Scott River, Salmon River, and it takes a sharp turn north again where the Trinity River joins it from the south. Copco and Iron Gate Dam located at the Oregon border, plus Upper Klamath Lake, north of the state line, are the significant dams along this river.
This area is the last hold-out for tribal members of
Dispersed camping outside of developed campgrounds. Fire permits are required during fire restrictions. Call for more info Orleans Ranger District at 530-627-3291
Aikens Creek West Campground, Road #10N75
No fee. Open all year. No reservations. No services. Trailer spaces available. Maximum trailer length 35′
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
Ti-bar, North of Orleans, CA No fee. Heavy use. Ti-bar River Access offers a paved road to excellent dispersed camping with picnic tables, camp fire rings, a vault toilet and information kiosk. Gravel, steep boat ramp; 4WD may be needed to launch boats.
Smith River Recreation Area
Doe Flat Trailhead, Road #16N02
Trail Parking @ elevation: 4500′
3 campsites and a vault toilet
Dry Lake, County Road 405.
No fee. Open all year. Tent camping, Vault toilet. Good fishing.
Stanshaw Equestrian Camp & Trailhead
Dispersed camping; No fee. Excellent base camp for equestrian recreationists heading out on the Stanshaw Trail in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area. One restroom, 5 large campsites with picnic tables, fire rings; corrals with running water for animals.
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
(Not to be confused w/ Panamint Springs, CA which is NW, along the main Highway 190 on the west side of DVNP
Panamint Valley, Death Valley NP
Inyo County, NE of Ridgecrest
East of Hwy 395, south of Hwy 190
Hard to reach ghost town / abandoned mining camp on the mountainous edge of Death Valley National Park. Access via dirt road and steep trail, off the paved Trona Wildrose Road. Panamint Valley, west of Death Valley
best time to visit:November – April
Triple digit heat is common in the warmer months, so spring, autumn and winter time is best for this region, but beware of winter storms.
Snow is common on the peaks, and at higher elevations (like this place) during winter (DEC-APRIL). If you see trees on the terrain – joshua trees or pinyon pines, that indicates that snow falls here often enough. Snow is possible around Death Valley, down to 3000′ elev. during coldest of winter storms.
Surprise Canyon Wilderness BLM– Desert mountains, steep rocky terrain w/ peaks and very few trees. Surprise Canyon can become a waterfall, during heavy desert rains. The canyon is the only access up to reach this hidden town
NO MORE 4×4 Hike or backpack up Surprise Canyon No longer 4WD accessible .Gotta hike it on foot now. So get that fat ass outta the rig for some elevated heart rate (real exercise).
This desert destination used to be a very popular off-road trail, where Jeeps would wench and crawl up the narrow, rocky passage; but all that changed with a wilderness designation (1994) and no longer are machines allowed in this specific canyon area. No vehicles (engines) and no mountain bikes. No wheeled anything.
Off-roading and free-wheelin is still allowed and abundant in neighboring canyons of Nadeau Road & Panamint Valley – Pleasant Canyon, South Park Canyon, Jailhouse Canyon, Goler Wash, Isham Canyon
Ballarat ghost town has a camper bathroom w/ showers and a fee to go along with that. Panamint Springs has a small motel and a big restaurant, plus a large campground (across the highway) which can accommodate tents, camper trailers and RVs.
Death Valley National Park boundary means developed campgrounds are a few miles away up Wildrose Canyon.
Boon-docking, dispersed, FREE, open camping is allowed almost anywhere in Panamint Valley and the neighboring desert canyons. Campfire permits are required and are available at BLM office in Ridgecrest. There is no firewood, nor wood collecting around these parts, so bring your own.
Nadeau Road has abundant flat spots for RVs; Well stocked 4x4s can find secluded camping further up the canyons, but must be a self-sufficient camper and bring water, plenty of ice, extra gasoline, food and firewood.
Locating a ‘real bed’ near this remote desert region will require some driving. The closest option in Panamaint Springs, which only has a few rooms. The next closest, would be Stovepipe Wells inside the National Park.
This 13,000-acre park, located in the Sierra Juárez Mountains, has some of the cleanest air on the planet. View deer, bald eagles, pine and oak forest while hiking or camping. Laguna Hanson sits in the middle of the park. Lake fishing for catfish & bass. Granite outcroppings for rock climbers, popular for bouldering. Mountain bike and camping, as well as off roading.
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir (National Park)
This massive range of mountains, 165,000 acres in size, is covered
with pine, oak and madrone forests. Baja’s highest peak at 3,086
meters, Picacho del Diablo resides here. Home to pumas, mountain
lions, bighorn sheep & over 30 species of bats. The region
is the wettest area on the Baja Peninsula, and from October to
May the mountains are covered with snow.
Isla Rasa (Special Biosphere Reserve)
Located in the Gulf of California, this reserve is only 17 acres in size. On this island 90% of the world’s brown sea gulls (larus hermanni) make their nests. Seals and the yellow-footed sea gull also inhabit the area.
El Vizcaíno (Biosphere Reserve)
This reserve is the largest in the world, made up of over six and one half million acres of islands, deserts, and coniferous forests. The gray whale is the reserve’s most interesting inhabitant, where it hibernates and reproduces. Wildlife such as the lynx, puma, red-tail falcon, and white pelican also reside in the unique area.
Isla Guadalupe (Special Biosphere Reserve)
One of the first protected areas of Mexico, this 62,500-acre island in the Pacific Ocean is a prime refuge to sea lions and seals. Unique volcanic geology and specially adapted plants make this reserve a scientist’s paradise.
Isla del Golfo (Special Biosphere Reserve)
Fifty-three islands in the Gulf of California make up this well preserved 375,000-acre reserve. The are is very isolated, making it ideally suited for scientific research and environmental education. Iguanas, lizards, ospreys, sea gulls and cormorant are some of the island’s many inhabitants.
The Gulf of California
is also referred to as the Sea of Cortez
Northern California’s impressive Feather River Watershed is massive and drains the lower half of snowy Mount Lassen @ 10,457′ elevation. The Plumas National Forest and Lassen Forest region is where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic rock of the Cascade mountain range.
In most recent times, 2017 was the wettest year on record for California. The Feather River Watershed recorded more water than any other year, based on 112 years of hydrology records.
West Branch (Paradise, CA) North Feather (Hwy 70 Beldon) Middle Feather (Berry Creek, CA) South Feather (LaPorte, CA)
Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains meet the Cascade Range @ Lassen
The North Feather runs along Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon with railways, tunnels and trestles traversing the giant gorge. This granite lined canyon is known as the “stairway to power” – water flows stepping down the mountain from numerous reservoirs. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) operate a series of 9 power plants all interconnected – producing electric power (and in rare occasions, wildfires)
The East Branch of the North Feather River comes out of the American Valley near Quincy, CA
The West Branch of the North Feather River flows south down from “the ridge” – a forested, volcanic ridge line descending from Mount Lassen. West branch flows directly into Lake Oroville at Lime Saddle (Marina). This residential area is currently off limits to tourists, as it recovers from the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history. The 2018 #CampFire destroyed most of the town and forests of Paradise, Lake Concow, and Yankee Hill. The incident made national news in November, as the worst wildfire season dragged well into autumn.
The South Fork of the Feather River and its reservoirs, are managed by the South Feather Power Project, consisting of 5 lakes, 4 power plants, and 3 diversion dams. The closest paved road to this region would be La Porte Road, off of Highway 70 between Gridley & Marysville, CA
The Middle Feather, or Middle Fork of the Feather, is a beautiful wild and scenic river for 78 miles, with granite walls, domes and few trails or roads. Only 2 campgrounds – Milsap Bar and Little North Fork, are well worth the journey.
EAST PLUMAS CO. Above the lumber & rail town of Quincy, Lake Davis and Frenchman Reservoir are both managed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Excellent mountain biking, stargazing and camping at both locations. NFS Campgrounds w/ fee.
North Sierra Waters:
via OROVILLE Reservoir Lake Oroville
All this water listed above is the massive Feather River Watershed. Like a thousand fine hairs that make up a bird feather, there are over 4,500 miles of mountain streams and rivers feeding the bigger Reservoir system below. Dam run by DWR (Department of Water and Power) at the State Recreation Area known as Lake Oroville SRA
Feather River has always been prone to flooding and wild river swings. All that Mount Lassen snowmelt needs to be managed in harmony with one another, so destructive floods do not ruin the agriculture and cities of the valley. Lake Oroville is the place; they try to control these river flows that are headed down to the Sacramento Valley. Oroville Dam was built in 1967. In 2017, a record rainfall winter in California, the Oroville dam showed major signs of stress with massive amounts of incoming water. Several recently published books tell the story in greater detail.
Below Lake Oroville, 2 giant warming ponds Thermalito Forebay & Thermalito Afterbay – built to control irrigation water and also heat the cold river water for the fish downstream
CA SR 162 – West Highway 162: the farming and residential areas of Thermalito & Biggs are held together by rock levees, all running right next to Highway 99. Diversion drainage leads out of Lake Orovillle above to the large inland bays – with river parks and salmon fish hatchery in historic, downtown Oroville. Wildlife viewing , kayaking, boating, fishing. Minimal camping at this area. Big rigs may be seen parked along this stretch of highway, due to its proximity to Hwy 99
Grand-eous ideas, from white men who conquered this land. The scouts on horseback mapped the canyons w/ primitive tools; the with dynamite and danger, they built a railroad through in 1850.
Hydro-electric power systems on the Feather, were constructed between 1908-1961. Native lands and tribal communities have been treated as sacrifice zones for national priorities of irrigation, flood control, and hydroelectric development.
Recent upgrades to Oroville Dam have been completed, although a lot of work still goes on around the Feather region due to wildfire debris, tree trimming, fire clearance, upgrades to power lines, and structural improvements.
Hiking trails, dirt roads and highways may be re-routed, inaccessible or closed due to construction, landslides, rock slides or utility work. Call local rangers for up to date info.
One of the largest rivers on the Central Coast of California, close to 100 miles long. You can find this river name spelled with “I” as well as “Y” on various maps featuring Santa Barbara. The smaller river “Inez” begins w/ the upper reservoirs, deep in Los Padres National Forest. After leaving Lake Cachuma heading westward, the name turns into the bigger “Santa Ynez” river. Agricultural farmlands, wineries, horse pastures, all the way to Lompoc.
Everyone knows this area as Lake Cachuma, in the mountains
behind Santa Barbara. This fire-prone mountain range parallels the palm tree lined coastal villages, along the scenic coastline of California. North of Ventura, Ojai and Los Angeles.
Indian Creek and Mono Creek drain the Dick Smith Wilderness Area, from the east, in Los Padres National Forest. Jameson Lake (2224′ elev) is a small reservoir where this river starts to come together. Downstream Agua Caliente Hot Springs flows, west to join Gibraltar Reservoir (1399′ elev). Then another 10 miles or so to meet w/ larger Lake Cachuma. The large river continues thru Santa Ynez Valley, on to Lompoc and empties into the sea around Vandenburg.
Ocean Beach sits in pristine isolation steps from engaging and beautiful shoreline, where the Santa Ynez River meets the sea. Bird-watchers and nature photographers love this spot. Beach access is closed to the public annually, from March – September due to bird (snowy plover) nesting season. Fishing is not allowed. Also known as “Surf Beach” and a well known coast for shark attacks.
Hiking is a popular recreation around this whole wine country region; Campgrounds are generally open all year long. Summers can be hot, winters are usually wet. Wildflowers bloom March-May.
Santa Ynez Recreation Area
Campgrounds near this River
Camps in this list are managed by Santa Barbara County, USFS and privately owned campgrounds
Gibraltar & Agua Caliente (access road #5N15 closed due to landslide; hike-in access only)
Dry SoCal terrain means that this river may be ‘seasonal’ – down to a trickle in drought years, or free flowing and wide during a good winter. Spring and winter storms can bring dangerous conditions and high water flowing over the paved roadways is possible. Authorities may close roads at any time depending on rainfall and river height. Check the weather forecast and know what to expect, cuz it’s a dead end canyon way back in here.
PARADISE ROAD: The is a main access road to numerous campgrounds, w/ hiking, biking and horseback trailheads and OHV routes all accessible. The canyon wide river bed is strewn will bowling ball sized boulders and wading pools may be found.
Off Roading OHV Trailhead
Buckhorn OHV, near Upper Oso
Indian Creek Camuesa OHV, near Mono Campground
Divided Peak OHV, on Camino Cielo East
Davy Brown OHV, Figueroa Mountain
CAMINO CIELO A popular paved, ridge route drive of Santa Barbara (coastline views) with junction at Highway 154.
Camino Cielo East (Rd#51N12), goes southeast to great viewpoints over the epic coast. Channel Islands usually seen on the ocean horizon. Road become dirt & sudden switchback into mountains is quite steep. SUV or high clearance vehicle may be needed; and possible 4×4 in wet weather.
[CLOSED DUE TO LANDSLIDE 2019] The dead-end route leads down to the Gibraltar Dam (#5N15), several camp sites and a remote hot springs (which may or may not be operational)
Camino Cielo West, turns northwest off the highway. Nice viewpoints over Lake Cachuma. Boulders and coves, a party spot for locals kids. Paved road quickly become dirt turns into steep mountains w/ off roading opportunities. OHV trails not well marked w/ signs, so drive slow until you know the terrain. 4×4 may be needed. Mountain bikers and hikers also use this route, so pass with caution.
Los Padres Forest Headquarters Goleta CA
The remote town of North Bloomfield is part of Malakoff Diggins State Park, an old mining operation inside of a dense forest. Located in Northern Gold Country, North of Nevada City, CA – the Yuba River region attracts tourists and locals alike. Far enough off the beaten path, that many do not make the extra trek, more than a dozen miles off NB Highway 49. Save it for next time and decades will pass.
Autumn colors can start as early as September and last through October. Maple trees line the small Main Street, turning orange, then a brilliant red during fall.
Antique buildings w/ furnishings. A graveyard, schoolhouse, viewpoints w/ benches. Impressive trees and old shacks. Hiking trails throughout the park.
State Park w/ ranger lead tours, daily. Cabins, saloons, museums, a picnic park, a few private homes, and a campground, (reservations recommended).
This region was a hydraulic mining camp from 1852 to 1884, until it was shut down by environmental laws… the first environmental law in California. The rocky debris and silt washing down river was so excessive, that orchards and towns down stream were being buried and many ruined.
A few full time residents still live in this tiny mountain community called North Bloomfield; please respect their privacy as their homes are located right on Main Street
North Bloomfield Road (the long way) leaves Nevada City, paved and it winds through a neighborhood, then crosses the river at Edwards Crossing, hairy one lane bridge built before 1900. Road becomes dirt and steep, dusty in certain sections. Camper vans okay, but no camper trailer or RVs!
1 mile uphill, a BLM Campground for South Yuba River is a cheap, small campground w/ vault toilets. Left loop is ideal, but no campsites are located “on the river”. Near the river, but still a really steep hike.
The long dirt road of North Bloom Field continues northbound, past the campground up into the pine forest. Out to the meadows that used to be Lake City, then onward, veering right to the State Park boundary.
Tyler Foote Road (the paved way), also known as Tyler-Foote Crossing Road and Tyler-Foote Xing Rd. Leaving Nevada City on Highway 49, northbound many miles. Road is paved the whole way and required for those driving RVs or motorhomes.